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How guardianship differs from power of attorney

On Behalf of | Feb 9, 2024 | Estate Planning

Guardianship and power of attorney are legal terms often used interchangeably.

However, they have distinct differences in their roles and responsibilities.


Guardianship is a legal arrangement where the courts appoint a person, known as the guardian, to make decisions on behalf of another individual, known as the ward. This usually happens when the ward is incapable of making decisions due to age, illness or disability.

The key characteristic of guardianship is the court’s involvement. The court carefully assesses the situation, considers the ward’s well-being and appoints a suitable guardian. The guardian is then responsible for making personal and financial decisions for the ward. This can include decisions about medical treatment, living arrangements and overall care.

Power of attorney

Power of attorney is a legal document that allows an individual, known as the agent or attorney-in-fact, to make decisions on behalf of another person, known as the principal. Unlike guardianship, the power of attorney does not require court involvement. Therefore, it is a more flexible and less formal option.

The principal grants specific powers to the agent through a power of attorney document. These powers can be broad or limited. They can cover financial matters, healthcare decisions or property transactions. The principal retains the ability to make decisions as long as they are competent.

Understanding these distinctions is important when considering legal arrangements for individuals who may need assistance in managing their affairs. Whether through guardianship or power of attorney, the goal is to ensure the well-being and protection of those who may require additional support in decision-making processes.